On January 25, 1995, 27-year-old Boston police officer Kenneth Conley responded to an early morning radio call for assistance in a foot chase following a report of a shooting at the Walaikum Burger restaurant on Blue Hill Avenue.
Officers pursued a car containing four men in a harrowing chase through Roxbury and Mattapan that ended when the four men fled from the car. When two uniformed men saw a man climbing a fence, they caught him and beat him savagely.
The man turned out to be Boston police undercover officer Michael Cox, who had heard the radio call and joined in the pursuit. Cox suffered severe kidney damage and head wounds.
In September 1997, after local authorities failed to make headway in any attempt to investigate the beating of Cox, federal authorities were asked to intervene. Officer Richard Walker told a grand jury that he had seen another officer between himself and Cox. Conley told the grand jury that he had not seen anyone beating Cox, although he had been involved in the pursuit. Conley said he experienced “tunnel vision” during the chase and focused only on the suspect and not on anything else.
On August 15, 1997, Conley was indicted by the grand jury on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to protect his fellow officers from prosecution. U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said Conley gave false testimony when he denied seeing Cox pursue and grab a suspect as the suspect ran toward a fence. Conley was also charged with falsely telling the grand jury he did not see other officers beat Cox.
On June 10, 1997, Conley was convicted in U.S. District Court in Boston of one count of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for telling the grand jury he did not see Cox pursing a suspect. He was acquitted of lying when he said he did not see the beating. Conley was not involved in the beating, according to the evidence.
On September 29, 1998, Conley was sentenced to 34 months in prison and fined $6,000.
On December 23, 1998, a federal civil jury hearing a lawsuit brought by Cox found two other officers liable for the beating.
Conley, who was one of the defendants in the civil case, was found not liable.
In February 1999, Cox settled the lawsuit against the city of Boston for $900,000, but left open the possibility of seeking individual damages against the two officers.
On March 17, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Conley’s conviction and four days later his lawyers filed a motion for a new trial alleging that prosecutors had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence prior to Conley’s trial.
On June 28, 2000, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Keeton ordered a new trial for Conley, ruling that prosecutors had withheld evidence from Conley’s defense lawyers.
The ruling was appealed and on July 15, 2000 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned Keeton’s order.
On August 20, 2004, U.S. District Judge William G. Young, ruling on another motion for new trial, granted Conley a new trial once again. Young ruled that prosecutor Theodore Merritt failed to give Conley’s defense a 1997 FBI memo containing a request to give a polygraph to Boston police officer Richard Walker who had told the FBI that he might remember things better if he were hypnotized.
On July 20, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld Young’s ruling and on September 2, 2005, the charges were dismissed.
Conley, who was allowed to remain free during the lengthy appeals, ultimately rejoined the police department and was awarded $647,000 in back pay.
In March 2006, Cox reached a settlement with one of the officers found liable in his civil suit in 1998. The amount was not disclosed.
The shooting that prompted the police chase in the first place resulted in the prosecution of four men for murder.
Two were acquitted. Brothers John and Jimmy Evans were convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
– Maurice Possley